Politics be damned
Interesting this: there is talk elsewhere that we may be on the verge of another Roaring Twenties — like that which followed the 1918 flu pandemic. Well, we can but hope; and note, I underscore elsewhere. Such talk is apparently fuelled by the belief that economic activity is going to pick up, dramatically in some quarters, as we ease out of the grip of Covid-19, and consumers look to engage in activities, such as travel, which have been off-limits thanks to lockdowns and related restrictions.
There are signs already of a hoped-for rebound in the form of increased consumer spending. That may well be so. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Whatever boost may come, this will not serve as a sufficient, if any, basis to sustain the kind of growth some economies will need in the long term. I dare say that the Bermuda economy is one of them.
There will need to be a plan and, as with any plan, a lot of assembly will be required - and straightaway.
Speaking of plans, we all know what happened when Covid-19 struck. Budgets and plans went out the window. The unforeseen and unexpected pandemic hardly served as a “get out of jail” card as has been suggested, uncharitably I thought, by the Opposition in its Budget Reply. Bad analogy, in fact. All of us have felt imprisoned by the pandemic and all that it has brought upon us, trapped and severely limited in what we can do.
Our government, too, has had to labour under the very same circumstances, and few among us will dispute how well our leaders have managed their way, and our way, through the crisis to date.
Sure and steadfast must remain the approach. Politics be damned.
As with any crisis, there is danger and there is also opportunity. Our focus must now be on any and all potential opportunities — and here is where the about-to-be announced and eagerly awaited Economic Recovery Plan will be key.
We have had some hints on what’s to come, and it will involve change. As it must. There is no “normal” any more. This is the time for ingenuity, vision and a fresh look at how we do just about everything here in tiny BDA — but, above all, the time for bold steps. Good luck, task force.
There are some obvious areas where change must come. Here are two:
• Working remotely: the pandemic has accelerated what the digital age makes possible. Office space will shrink. Home base is now a critical and important factor. Go on: Make Bermuda Your Home Office. Our government has already started down this track. The invitation and policy must continue, and remain under review, for refinement, in conjunction with the Bermuda Tourism Authority. As my friend and columnist the late Larry Burchall long advocated, the biggest spenders are those who stay the longest
• Education: again the future has been accelerated. Classes by computer and remotely. A whole new set of skills is required for teaching and for learning. The irony is that with any school reorganisation, block and cement are not half as important
Here’s one other opportunity to be transformative and to change tack on the Hill:
Debate on the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure over the next few weeks is often described as the Opposition’s debate because the Opposition gets to decide what will be examined and for how long. With continued debate by Zoom, we could see a more focused examination of what has been spent, and on what, in the current year, and what is proposed to be spent, and on what, in the coming year.
Benchmarks ought to be established and tracked throughout the year, followed up on by the Public Accounts Committee and, where necessary, by parliamentary questions.
This is one way in which the Opposition can join with government backbenchers to support the Minister of Finance in his quest to keep government expenditure under control and in check — and to help out the Auditor-General.
It is a welcome, new approach made possible and accessible by technology, another one of the benefits of a pandemic none of us planned on. We can but hope.